Overcome Imposter Syndrome

High achieving folks (ahem, UNC students) and self-doubt go together like PB&J.

Have you ever felt like you don’t deserve your accomplishments? That you’re in over your head and someone might notice?  If so, you’re not alone. The tendency to diminish obvious evidence of our abilities is called “imposter syndrome.” And it is an issue for many successful people.


Psychologist Pauline Rose Clance, a therapist who worked with undergraduate students, noticed that while many of her clients got good grades and had all the markers of being a successful person, they believed they didn’t deserve to be at their college. Some went so far as to think that their acceptance had been an admissions error. Clance knew these fears were inaccurate, but she also recalled feeling the same way herself while in grad school. She decided to study that feeling of fraudulence.

Who feels like an imposter?

Feeling like an imposter is an almost universal experience of humanity. It’s not a disease. It’s not tied to mental health issues. There is no level of accomplishment that puts these feelings to rest – people as highly revered as Maya Angelou and Albert Einstein expressed feelings of imposter syndrome. Clance researched people with diverse gender identities, races, ages, and occupations, and found imposter syndrome virtually everywhere, though more prevalent in underrepresented or disadvantaged groups.

Where do these feelings of being an imposter come from?

People who are highly skilled or accomplished (people like YOU) tend to think others are just as skilled. This can turn into feelings that they don’t deserve praise and opportunities over other people.

Plus, everyone can be susceptible to pluralistic ignorance – where we doubt ourselves privately but think we’re the only ones who do so because no one else voices their doubts.

We can never really know how hard the people around us work, how difficult they find certain tasks, or how much they doubt themselves.

If everyone has imposter syndrome at some point, why is it a problem?

Intense feelings of imposter syndrome can prevent people from changing the world! They might avoid sharing their great ideas or applying for majors, internships and jobs  where they would excel.

How can I overcome my feelings of being an imposter?

TALK ABOUT IT. Hearing that advisors or mentors or friends have experienced similar feelings of imposterism can help relieve those feelings. You are not alone in your experiences!

COLLECT THE GOOD STUFF. Many of us shrug away compliments and hold onto criticism. Soak in the praise. Revisit positive feedback. Make yourself a “smile file” of nice notes from people you love or good comments from professors and read through them when you’re feeling down.

THINK DIFFERENT THOUGHTS. We all can learn to think like a non-imposter. No one likes to not know the answer or have an off day. Instead of thinking “wow I’m full of BS” you could think “I can come up with things to say on the fly that people find useful.” It’s reframing imperfections. It’s finding the good in what you do. Even if you don’t believe it – that’s ok.

FEELINGS ARE THE LAST TO CHANGE. If you’re struggling with feeling like an imposter, it’s not going to change immediately upon reading this article. All changes happen in a similar pattern: start with intention, move to action and change your behavior, practice that new behavior over and over again. At some point, that behavior becomes second nature – and finally, it’s just who you are.

“First, it is an intention. Then it is a behavior. Then a practice. Then second nature. Then it is simply who you are.” -Brendon Burchard


  • You did so many things that got you to UNC.
  • You know how to do difficult things.
  • You belong here.

Learn more

If you want to dive in deeper, take an online questionairre by Pauline Rose Clance, the psychologist who originally studied imposter syndrome. If you find that you have imposter experiences, remember that you’re not alone.

This article was compiled from information from TedEd, How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome and Mindful.org


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